The zeroth rule

I recently saw the documentary Still Bill, about the songwriter Bill Withers. He wrote Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone, Lean On Me, Lovely Day, and many others. He’s one of the greats, and still writes songs, very inspiring. One of the things so fun for me to see in the documentary is how moved Bill Withers is by good music (and there are clips of some very talented other musicians in the film). It reminds me of my zeroth rule.

Books about writing pretty much all say: read. Read a lot. That’s the first rule. And I practiced that rule without being told. I love to read. And I remember loving so many books. But I went through a fraidy-cat period. Stuff I read was, oh, pretty good. Not bad. I never wanted to sound like I really liked something, because someone else might knock it and prove me a fool.

I turned a corner when I let myself really love the things I loved. It made me more free to write. Writing is of course an even bigger risk than reading.

My zeroth rule says find things you love to read, and love them. Somewhere down the line, the 25th rule or so, it helps to learn how to assess your own work. Looking at your own work, it helps to know what you love. And it helps to put what you love in there, if it isn’t in there.

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